Posted by Emily Block | 0 comments

Ghana (Day 3)

   Another bright and early morning!  If I keep this up, I'm not going to be allowed to sleep in until 10 and 11 anymore when I get home. haha  I have to admit I was nervous going into this field program.  It was a cultural immersion overnight where I would be going to a village and spending the night with a host family.  I had all the usual worries in this situation, plus how my host family would react to things like my neck brace and not having as much energy.  At the same time, I was very excited.  It's the mixture of feelings that is common when you know an experience is going to be challenging but rewarding.
  The trip started off better than the last one as I am now much more comfortable with all the new things here and the bus was air conditioned!   I got my usual seat near the front of the bus and spoiled myself by listening to music on my ipod on the way there.  (I usually don't like to do this because though relaxing, it is isolating me from other conversations.)  The bus ride was only about an hour and a half or so and on the way we were entertained by baboons frequently crossing the road.  A bit different than the deer I am used to having to look for!

   I spent the rest of the bus ride thinking about what I expected this experience to be like.  I knew there would be some sort of welcome ceremony and then I would spend time with my host family.  I was kind of pessimistic in that I figured it would be really hokey and touristy.  I bet that I was going to spend the day in a big house and spend the day doing the same things I would do at home.  (That's what my last homestay was like in New Zealand.  Super fun, but not really new.)  Turns out this was definitely not the case.
As we pulled up to the village, we were greeted by kids jumping up and down, dancing, and darting between the clay-built houses.  We waved frantically at them from the bus window and they waved frantically back.  It was a very exciting way to start things off!  As we debarked the bus, kids took us by the hand to lead us to where the welcoming ceremony would be.  Since I was one of the first people off the bus, I had primo seating in the front row.  We started the ceremony by shaking all of the elder's hands as we filed in.  Many of them were dressed beautifully in bright blue or yellow cloth and huge pieces of (possibly real) gold jewelry. Then we were called up individually to receive welcoming gifts of a handmade clay pot and painted beads.  We also were given our African name as a symbol of us becoming village members.  I know this sounds really corny, but it was actually a really nice and welcoming gesture.  My African name is Yawa Desiadenyo.  The first name I is based on the fact that I was born on a Thursday and the middle name means goodness. 

 Since the naming ceremony was so long, there would be breaks where the kids would drum and show us their dances.  Even the littlest kids had such a good grasp of the steps and movements.  I think back to how spastic I was when I took ballet at four years old and these kids are nothing like that.  The only hint that this wasn't a completely meaningful experience to the people there was that the elders were definitely bored out of their minds.  They were texting and napping for the most part.  

   After the naming ceremony, we met our homestay family head of household just to see their face and give a quick hug until we would meet back up with them after lunch.  We took a picture of our group with the elders also.  As we were getting into position for the photo, I felt a little hand slip into mine.  I looked down and there was probably the world's cutest little boy who smiled shyly and took my heart forever.  Kids weren't supposed to be in the picture, but I nudged a few people over so he could peek out.  From then until I got on the bus for lunch, he stayed right by me.  He reminded me of myself when I was little because he was very shy but enjoyed watching everything that was going on from a distance.  I hated to have to get on the bus, but figured I would see him when I got back.  (Actually, he wasn't there so I never got to meet back up with him.)  :0(   

   I was nice to get away for lunch to have some time to process everything, but it felt strange at the same time.  Like we had to leave to get better food than what was at the village.  (Every meal was provided by the tour company so we never actually ate in the village.  It was pretty disconcerting.)  I got a little bored sitting at lunch so I walked around the resort where we were eating to scout out some wildlife.  (BTW it was called a resort, but it was more like a cheap hotel with extensive grounds.)  I saw lots of really cool lizards including one that was probably two feet long!  There were also lots of what I think were ibises which was fun to see because I usually only see one at a time.  

   Back at the village, we were once again greeted by the extremely enthusiastic kiddies.  Before I was even two steps off of the bus I had an escort of two adorable little girls in matching yellow dresses with black and white checkered aprons.  They took me to where everyone was gathering to mingle for a bit.  I took out my camera to take some pictures and that was quite quickly commandeered by one of the girls.  I was  a little nervous at first, but she seemed to have a good grip on it, so I left it with her and looked on as she took some very hilarious pictures of her friends and some of the SASers.  Then she turned her camera on me with more hilarious results.  I finally got my camera back after if had changed hands several times and couldn't wait to see all of the crazy pictures I would have. 

(Some good little photographers, eh!?!)

 A group of kids and one other guy from SAS had started a game of soccer and I decided to give it a try since I was feeling pretty good that day.  Guess what.  I still go it!  I was surprised that things came back to me so quickly!  I kept up pretty well for several minutes and was able to show off some moves I thought I would have forgotten how to do.  It felt so good to play again even if it was only for a few minutes and cost me double that time to catch my breath afterward!  
    Then, my two adorable escorts were back and let me to see how the women of the village made pottery.  The lady making the pots was the one of the girl's grandmother so she was very proud to show me the pottery making.  The pots are really cool and expertly made.  I remember struggling for weeks to make a couple of tea cups out of clay, and these women were making beautiful pots like it was second nature.  In the few minutes we watched, the lump of clay took a hollow round shape and a leaf was used to make a perfectly curved out lip to the pot.  We then moved on to see how the pottery was fired.  Basically a bunch of dried pots were carefully stacked in a pile layered with palm leaves and other kindling.  The whole thing went up in  a huge blaze when lit and cooked the pottery by the end of that day.  Special clay was made into a pain and added to the outside of the pots go give them a pleasant red coloring when fired.  

   Finally it was time to go to my homestay family's house.  I went on the bus and grabbed my neck brace and larger backpack to bring with me.  The kids were extremely fascinated by my neck brace which I thought was fun.  I showed them how I put it around my neck and then helped one of the girls who had given me the tour put it on.  The kids decided it made a better had than neck brace so they proudly wore it as I ventured to my home for the day.  
  Another thing the kids found extremely entertaining were my compression stockings.  I think the kids thought it was my skin so when I showed them that I could pinch it and lift it up, their eyes got huge.  For the rest of the trip, kids kept coming up to me to ask to see my silly skin.  I loved it!
   Walking thought he village on the way to my homestay mom's house, I noticed some difference in the buildings.  Some of the houses were larger with courtyards and made out of wood or concrete blocks, while others were as small as one tiny room and made out of clay and a tarped roof.  I wondered what determined who lived where and unfortunately never got to find out.  The house I would be staying at seemed somewhere int he middle of the houses I saw.  It was partly concrete, partly clay with a small courtyard area out front.  There was another, larger building adjacent to the one room structure which I think was the main part of the house.  I walked inside and got quite a treat to see the walls were painted a beautiful bright blue.  (Mom and dad, I know what I'm painting my room when I get home!)  My homestay mom asked what I thought and I said I thought the house was beautiful.  It really was in it's own way, but at the same time I couldn't help comparing it to my home and thinking how amazingly lucky I am.  It's one of those many things I am encountering that is hard to recon with.  One one hand I was sad that they didn't have the things I had at home.  At the same time, who's to say what I have is better?  I wonder if they came to see my house if they would pity me because it isn't like their house.  Or would they wish to have a house like it?   I don't know, and I definitely didn't want to bring it up.  As a bored middle class college student, I used to want to "save the world," but I'm learning that too often the "saving" is doing things that aren't needed where genuine needs are not met because their solutions aren't as attractive to us naive kids in the states.  (We talk a lot about this in my service learning class and I will elaborate in a future post.)

   Anyway, another SASer who was staying with my homestay mom's brother and I gave some gifts as thanks.  I gave a picture I had painted and a deck of cards with pictures of San Jose on them.  That segwayed nicely into me teaching card games.  Let me tell you that this is a challenge with a significant language barrier!  I tried to teach my favorite game, kings in the corner, but that didn't go so well.  It thought back to when I was little and learning card and tried my old favorite game that my grandma taught me, concentration.  This went over much better and I feel like the family learned it well enough that they will play it in the future.  I certainly lost by an embarrassing amount!  I was never any good at that game!  haha
   I was a little worried if things would get awkward at this point, but the kids took over.  My homestay sister Sara (age 14), one of her friends (also 14), and the youngest homestay sister Kafi (8) took me and the other SASer on a fantastic tour of the town.  We first went to the river to get water that would be used for cooking, cleaning, and bathing that day.  I offered to help, so I got to carry a little bucket which I learned to do on my head.  It was a lot harder than I expected!  I got dizzy from the pressure on my neck pretty quickly, so I was doing all the lifting with my arms griping the rim over my head.  That way I could look like I was just steadying it with my hands when really I was not using my head at all.  I was pretty proud that I made it about half way back to the house (including a very steep uphill climb) before my arms and endurance gave out.  The other SASer got his chance to carry it then and he agreed that it was very difficult.  I marveled at how strong the kids were who were carrying buckets four times the size of mine with no visible effort.  

After we delivered the water, they took me back out to meet people.  I met lots of their friends and relatives including some of the siblings from the family who had moved out and gotten married.  There were seven kids in the family total and I think about 4 or 5 were still living at home.  I had the honor of meeting the chief and bowed before I shook his hand as was customary.  I think that was the first time I bowed to someone not as a joke in my life.  In general I find that kind of thing demeaning, but I kind of just accepted it in this case as being part of the honor of getting to meet the chief.  I also saw some of the various chores that people in the village were doing like weaving and crushing these yummy nut thingies.  

   We ended up back at the house so Sara could teach me how to cook botu (correct spelling pending).  She was slightly appalled when I said I didn't know how to cook it and made sure that was remedied.  The dish is made from powder from a root.  The powder can be used similarly to flour as a thickener or bread.  In this case, were were cooking it to make dough that would be dipped in a stew for dinner.  Sara expertly mixed the right proportions of powered root to water in a large cooking pot and then set it over the fire to start cooking.  I got a chance to stir it myself, but didn't last long due to smoke making my eyes tear, and the stirring being too difficult. 

 Again I marveled at how tough these kids were!  As the dough thickened, it got more difficult to stir so Kafi propped a stick against the pot and sat on it to keep it from moving.  My homestay mom, whose name is Gladys by the way, took over for the last part while the kids took a bath at the other side of the courtyard.  She offered to get me water for a bath, but the idea of stripping naked for the whole village to see terrified me far too much to accept her offer.  She gave me the look I got several times during my stay from various adults and kids that plainly showed that she thought I had strange ways.  Fresh from her bath, Kafi walked up and offered me some extremely dodgy looking dried fish.  To illustrate how dodgy I will say that there was dust and spider webs on the fish and also that it looked like that:

But thanks to many episodes of bizarre foods and a blatant disregard for anything I learned in microbiology class, I tried some.  Twice.  It was actually quite good and tasted like fish jerky.  I got to taste the meal when it was done as well.  I chickened out on trying the broth that was really spicy but I did have some of the dough that I had (kind of) helped cook.  Just like the bread made from the root powder, it had a really good flavor, kind of like sourdough toast.  

While the family was still eating, it was time for us to go to the central area where our group was having food catered.  This made me pretty uncomfortable, but I took extra helpings so I could share with Gladys and Kafi who accompanied me to dinner.  The food was fantastic!  I had a tourist friendly version of botu with broth that was not spicy and contained no fish heads.  (I would have been fine with the fish heads though.)  There was also two kinds of rice, mystery meat that was so delicious I didn't care what it was, and fish.  Part way through eating I realized I was getting full even quicker and to a greater extent than usual.  I commented on this to an SASer sitting next to me and she said that the dough literally expands in your stomach to help you feel full.  This made sense for how I was rapidly feeling like my stomach was being blown up like a balloon.  It also made me think about why that was such a staple food.  The people in the village seemed to have enough to eat, but perhaps that was not the case if their main food was made specifically to give the illusion of fullness.  It made me even happier that I could share some of my meal with them!  

Then came the dancing!  A bonfire was lit and some of the older boys started drumming to a fast beat.  Now pretty much a pro at Ghanaian dancing, I jumped right in.  (Oh and by pro, I mean complete spaz by the way.)  My homestay sisters showed me some new moves and then we all joined in a sort of conga line circle.  It was so much fun!  I spent the second part watching as opposed to dancing because I was tired after such a long day!  The family and I ended up going back to the house at around 8:00 to go to bed because we were all so tired.

I wasn't sure exactly what to expect, but it wasn't what happened.  First of all, no bath, and then second of all, the whole household sat and watched me when I laid down to go to sleep!  I wasn't really sure what to do.  Finally the Gladys conveyed to me that she wondered why I was going to go to sleep with my clothes on.  She even started helping me undress until I said quite firmly that I would be keeping my clothing on.  That got me another one of those looks that showed I had strange ways.  Gladys left to go bathe and go to bed and I expected the kids to follow.  Nope!  It was a slumber party!  Sara, Derek (age 10), Kafi and I all squeezed into the one bed.  Talk about me having to get over my personal bubble in a hurry.  I was thinking that I wouldn't sleep at all but I actually fell asleep almost instantly.  I woke up a bunch of times in the night and at one point the two older kids had ended up on the floor.  I was amazed that they seemed perfectly comfortable there with no pillows or blankets.  Then I realized what I was sleeping on was about the same. The bed consisted of a few layers of fabric thrown over some crates.  I hadn't even realized there were no pillows or sheets or anything because I had been so tired.  Somehow it was still all very comfortable so I went back to sleep.  

Morning came bright and well at least early.  It was 4:30 am so it wasn't bright yet.  That' when Gladys came in to get the older kids up so they could start their chores.  It was also when the many animals started waking up so there were lots of goat calls, dogs barking, and chickens clucking.  The animals have free reign here by the way.  Everywhere I've been there are goats, cows, chickens, you name it grazing on the side of the road with no fences.  I wonder how they don't run away, but this is sadly one additional question I never found the answer to.  

You know what, this is getting too long, and I'm once again tired to the point of incoherence, so I'll pick back up tomorrow.  :0)


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